Sticking together for 15

December 17, 2013

Norma Villegas and Anoki Casey report from San Diego on the fight for a living wage.

MORE THAN 100 community members rallied outside a Wendy's in downtown San Diego on December 5 to demand that the fast-food industry act on workers' demands for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to unionize--as well as to show solidarity with Leobardo Meza, an unjustly terminated McDonald's worker.

The event was part of a national day of action by workers at fast food restaurants and their supporters. The fight is catching fire among this section of struggling service workers. Their demand is as straightforward as it is bold: a better standard of living and respect from the multibillion-dollar service industry, which is served daily by tens of thousands of miserably underpaid workers.

The December 5 action in San Diego was the second at that particular Wendy's, and inspired the participation of community groups and union officials, along with low-wage workers. Many in the crowd wore brightly colored union shirts or held a banner belonging to one organization or another. Various news crews covered the rally as it marched around the block twice, accompanied by street-theater actors, volunteers dressed in "luchador" masks ("¡Lucha por $15! ¡Sí se puede!"), and a large Fight for 15 puppet deftly handled by San Diego's Overpass Light Brigade.

Workers and activists demand a $15 an hour living wage in San Diego
Workers and activists demand a $15 an hour living wage in San Diego

Interim Mayor Todd Gloria took the microphone to give his blessing to the campaign. Armed with a few facts and a camera-ready smile, Gloria's presence seemed to be part of his effort to steer the careening city back on course after the previous mayor resigned in disgrace due to a pattern of sexual misconduct.

Gloria provided a faint echo of what is happening in other cities where lawmakers are facing pressure to bypass the bosses and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for the whole city.

THIS HAS also given a boost to local efforts to demand the reinstatement of McDonald's workers Leobardo Meza, a Fight for 15 striker who was unjustly fired. Members of the campaign have stood with Leobardo, staying true to their word to never leave any worker behind.

At a recent action, about 40 activists rallied in support of Leobardo outside a McDonald's in Bonita, a suburb of San Diego and home to local McDonald's owner-baron Bob Sutherland. The picketers carried with them hundreds of petitions signed by students and community members to demand justice for Leobardo, as well as signs reading, "We stand with Leobardo."

The picketers had planned to deliver their petitions to the store manager, but before they could make their way inside, plainclothes police helpfully informed organizers that Sutherland was "out of town" and provided them with an address to mail the petitions to. Then, the police threatened organizers with arrest if they set foot in the restaurant.

Organizers responded that a small delegation of supporters would be sent in to deliver the petitions, and when they returned with the petitions still in hand but not arrested, Leobardo addressed the crowd in Spanish: "It doesn't matter if I don't get my job back, we need to fight for $15! More struggles are forthcoming, and this fight is going to grow! ¡Pa'lante todos!"

Fired up by Leobardo's message and with still-undelivered petitions, the crowd continued with its plan of caravanning to Sutherland's fabulous estate in the foothills of Bonita. There, they were met by a patrol car and two more uniformed police officers who indicated that Sutherland's house was on a private road, and no one would be permitted to pass. They pointed to "private property" signs on electric poles that were bare only the day before.

As one organizer said: "The police protecting private property show our fight is not just with the bosses, but with the police who want to keep the working class in check."

We left, but not before hearing from an undeterred Leobardo: "I wanted [Bob] to look me in the eye and, face to face, tell me why they fired me: for feeding the homeless or for joining the fight for $15? We have to keep up the fight! We're going to stick together in the struggle!"

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